The Christian Fellowship at Prairie Stone (including Sears):God at Work at Prairie Stone
Michael Valleskey • The Faith at Work Movement
The Christian Fellowship at Prairie Stone is an example of the body of Christ in the workplace. (Prairie Stone is an office/entertainment development in the northwest Chicago suburbs which includes the Sears Holdings World Headquarters.) With continuous dependence on God's leadings and minimal structure, the Fellowship keeps its focus on two crucial priorities: to glorify God and to encourage coworkers through prayer, worship, bible study and acts of compassion.
Christian Fellowship at Prairie Stone Co-Mission
The Christian Fellowship at Prairie Stone is a group of Sears Holdings Corp. Associates and Prairie Stone workers who share a common faith, Christianity. We are called by God to join His life-saving, life-changing work that He's always doing in this workplace. Therefore, we seek to build a compassionate Christ-like community and positively contribute to our respective companies.
About Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. is known as one of the longest established businesses in America. Since 1886 when Richard Sears began as a mail order watch merchant, satisfactory service to the customer and integrity were the company's foundational tenets. Through the years, company leaders have also valued compassion exercised through help for the under-resourced. As an example, former CEO Julius Rosenwald's foundation made possible the construction of more than 5,000 schools for poor children.
These principles stand true for Sears Holdings Corporation (SHC) today. The company employs approximately 400,000 and is a leading broadline retailer providing merchandise and related services. The people of SHC continue to value giving to their communities. SHC employees and retirees provide nearly one million hours of volunteer service each year. In 2003, Sears and its employees made more than $47 million in monetary and merchandise contributions to not-for-profit organizations.
In alignment with SHCs' vision to improve the lives of our customers by providing quality services, products and solutions that earn their trust and build lifetime relationships, the Christian Fellowship at Prairie Stone values people - both employees and customers - and seeks to provide quality work "as unto the Lord".
How God Created and Grew the Christian Fellowship at Sears
Those in leadership roles in the Christian Fellowship know that they are here as a result of prayers that went up years before them. Over the past 20 years, through job assignments and God-orchestrated interactions, God led his people to find one another in this workplace. Beverly Blount followed God's prompting more than 20 years ago to invite Christian coworkers to a weekly Bible study. When her work team was moved to another facility, Beverly carried the study with her and invited more Sears employees to join. God grew the group to include about 40 participants - female, male and multicultural. Simultaneously, a small Bible study was beginning at the new Sears headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Ill., led by a man who had been in Beverly's study group.
When Beverly's job required her transfer to the Hoffman Estates office in 1994, God led the Bible study group through a severe transition. Many dropped out, and God used what appeared to be disappointment and failure to transform the group into one more focused on serious study. A prayer group began at that time; and, with this, God's work to build the Christian Fellowship at Sears became more evident.
Over the next several years, God brought more Christ followers to Sears and awakened those who were already employed here, building the "workplace church" that exists today. Gale Dillehay came to Sears and soon began asking coworkers if there was a workplace Bible study group. He discovered one through office neighbor Gaius Cosman and, soon after, was called by God into leadership himself when another coworker, Scott, who was leading a study left the company. "Coincidentally," Gale was moved to the same office cubicle that Scott had occupied.
Bill Kernitz came to Sears to take a position in the real estate department in 1994. Michael Valleskey, a former coworker, soon joined him. Since their last experience working together, both men had had a conversion experience that relaunched their commitment as Christ followers. "Bill and I would sit in one of our cars and pray and fast weekly during our lunchtime," says Valleskey. "We started to watch and recognize where God was working and on whom He was working - people who had spiritual questions, who were dealing with severe illnesses or loss. It was obvious to us and to others that God was at work at work, and His influence here only increased with each passing week."
Mike responded to God's call to facilitate a study group on Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King. Around the same time, a coworker Donna Costabile began sending a "daily word" message to coworkers who'd asked to receive it. As a result of combining the Experiencing God and daily word group rosters, an e-mail subscription list was started. This list of employees, at one time numbering more than 250, became what is today the Christian Fellowship.
Meanwhile, another Christian at Sears, Jeff Lomax, was praying for God to work in a different way. Jeff dreamed of a workplace choir, and his prayers were answered in 1996 when God started the Sears Associate Gospel Choir. The choir's first official concert that year was a fundraiser that helped Sears employees purchase 60 winter coats for low-income children in the Chicago area. This contributed to the annual "Coats for Kids" program that had been started by fellowship members in 1989 when they felt called by God to "teach My people to give." In 2003, the Coats for Kids program provided 3,500 coats to children in need, distributed by Sears volunteers at the Chicago Bears' football stadium.
Today, the choir is a unique workplace ministry in itself and is the only faith-based group at Sears that is recognized by the company. In April 2004, the choir accompanied Sears CEO Alan Lacy to Washington, D.C., for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies annual dinner, which Mr. Lacy chaired. The previous fall, the choir represented Sears at the annual community breakfast of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, also in Washington, D.C. The choir has been used to strengthen and reinforce good neighbor ties between Sears and its local communities.
Different from the choir, the Christian Fellowship is an "unrecognized group" at SHC and receives no endorsement from the company. The people who are involved in the Christian Fellowship participate in various Bible study, prayer and fellowship groups that meet on personal time, during lunch hours and before the workday begins. Most work at the SHC national headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Ill. (approximately 5,000 people at this location), and some are at field locations in Texas, California and other states. Some examples of Christian Fellowship sponsored classes/events include 9/11 prayer gathering, Jesus video showing, praise and worship services, Gospel messages, a divorce and remarriage study, missionary speakers, seeker small group training and a retreat.
God continues to work in amazing and unexpected ways at SHC. During the past two years, God has surfaced and brought more and more senior leaders to the company who are strong, committed Christians and who see the workplace as a major part of their calling. The body of Christ at Sears continues to pray, watch and respond.
The Christian Fellowship at Sears is not the product of a formula or a step-by-step process. It is simply - yet abundantly and miraculously - the result of God's work and the obedience of His people.
Christian Fellowship at Prairie Stone: Fact Sheet
· Started 1982 at Sears Tower in Chicago, Ill.; adopted the name "Christian Fellowship" Fall, 2000
· Number of employees current involved - about 150; mostly working for Sears Holdings Corp. (SHC
but also other companies within the Prairie Stone office/entertainment development.
· Types of gatherings/events -
· bible study
· prayer gatherings
· video showing with discussion
· praise and worship services
· Gospel message presentations
· Gospel Choir concerts
· a divorce and remarriage study
· missionary speaker presentations
· seeker small group training
· a retreat
· Greatest lessons learned -
· God is in control, and He brings the people where they should be, when they should be there.
· For instance, the Christian Fellowship e-mail list was an answer to God's call to connect the believers here. Then, a year later, 9/11 presented a need to gather people for prayer and solace, for which the e-mail list was the only means to get the word out about a prayer gathering.
· Greatest challenges -
· Availability of people in the body to participate in studies or events. Everyone at Prairie Stone has limited time and resources, and study attendance is irregular due to workload pressures and business meetings often scheduled during the lunch hour.
· Overcoming the myth that people cannot be called by God to ministry in the workplace environment.
· Separation thinking of some believers - that the person I am at work has to be different than the person I am when at church.
· Communication is limited because the Christian Fellowship is an unrecognized group and can only use e-mail as a communications channel.
· Misguided believers; dissension within the body.
· Advice to future fellowship groups -
· Pray first, then watch to see where God is already working.
· Begin with focus on your relationship with God, then wait for Him to reveal where He's working, and simply respond (Relationship, Revelation, Response).
· Follow Jesus's model - don't be concerned with calling attention to yourself; simply care for His people. Follow the Acts 2 model of God building his church through home groups.
· Anticipate resistance from the enemy; this has come to our fellowship in the form of dissension, illness, busyness and fear of repercussions
· Value people as a community and be aware of those who are lost or in need of compassion.
· Fully rely on God, trusting Him to do the work of building the ministry.
Christian Fellowship at Prairie Stone Contact: Michael Valleskey (847) 286-0152
Sears Holdings Associate Gospel Choir Contact: Jeffrey Lomax (847) 286-9457